Interview with Caroline Robinson, Senior Account Manager at Landmark Information Group
Caroline Robinson is Senior Account Manager at Landmark Information Group. She told Jane Common of Today’s Conveyancer about the moves Landmark is making to focus on the commercial market and the current challenges facing the sector.
What’s happening at Landmark at the moment Caroline?
“Landmark has always had a very good reputation as a data aggregator but, over the last couple of years, we’ve moved that forward by providing reports that give solutions as well as information, helping to manage the risk in property transactions for buyers, solicitors and lenders.
“Our parent company, dmgi::information, acquired Argyll Environmental in 2010 and Renaissance Environmental in 2012 which were soon integrated into the Landmark Information Group. Landmark was very much for the residential conveyancer – we offered mass market but very high quality products. Argyll Environmental provided reports to the top end of the market – the commercial market – designed in consultation with lawyers. And Renaissance produced agricultural reports, looking at, for example, Greenfield sites. Today, we have a comprehensive suite of products ranging from the basic residential conveyancing report right up to working with the National Trust and English Heritage.
“On top of that, we took on over 80 new members of staff across group last year to help ensure that we continue to meet our hard-earned reputation for providing the highest quality reports and supporting services in the industry.”
Have you been at Landmark long?
“I’ve been here for two years, working on the commercial side. Before Landmark I worked for six months for Argyll on a consultancy basis and for the eight years previous to that I was Head of Commercial at SearchFlow.
“Over that time, I’ve built relationships with the big commercial property companies in the city and I know how exacting and demanding they can be. Lawyers are always working to strict time constraints so when they need information there’s a deadline. But some of the providers they have to deal with – local authorities, for example – just don’t work on the same basis. A commercial lawyer will work for three days solid and stay up all night to complete something for a client whereas in local authorities people start work at 9.30am and finish at 4pm and won’t do anything outside of those hours.
“So what Landmark is about – and what I understand, through my experience in this field – is the importance of making sure we get pertinent information to the lawyers so they can complete the transaction as quickly and seamlessly as possible to meet their deadlines.”
Which new products is Landmark currently bringing to market?
“We have the SiteSolutions Highways report, which we developed in consultation with commercial lawyers over the last 12-months and launched in December 2014. It is going from strength to strength. Commercial conveyancers always do a highways search and that information, much of which comes from the local authority, is critical. But working with the local authority is slow and expensive – it can take from ten working days to as long as three months to get the information and that can really hold up a transaction. So, with our Highways report, we have developed a product through which we can provide the information in five to eight working days. In addition, we will always charge a standard fee of £120 plus VAT whereas local authority fees can vary from £80 up to £200. The inconsistencies in delivery time, pricing and, indeed, what is actually delivered by local authorities are the problems that our new report solves.
“At the same time, we’ve just improved our Plansearch Plus residential report, which looks at planning applications around a property. When someone buys a home, the local authority search only examines the particular property the person is purchasing – it doesn’t look at what’s going on around so it won’t, for example, tell the buyer if there’s a planning application next door for a two-storey extension or loft conversion. Plansearch Plus provides that information and it’s just been improved, revealing nearby planning applications that could materially impact the future enjoyment and value of the property, and therefore make the difference between whether someone wants to buy a particular home or not. Importantly, solicitors are able to guard themselves against future negligence claims for not having informed their clients of these matters.”
What are the other big issues developers are likely to be facing in the future?
“For the past 18-months we’ve been producing energy and infrastructure reports for both residential and commercial properties and they are increasingly adopted in conveyancers’ standard search bundles as the issues they highlight become more common and gain more press coverage: wind farms, fracking, HS2, Crossrail and many other projects are included, and all of these could impact on the property being developed or purchased. I do quite a few presentations raising awareness of issues with commercial law firms and the one that’s been most requested lately is the energy and infrastructure session.
“With fracking, it’s not only the issue of extracting the gas and the area becoming an industrial site – there’s also the issue of several hundred and odd trucks bringing in water, chemicals and sand with all of their nitrogen oxide emissions polluting the air. But those concerns have to be balanced with the government policy on energy – and the fact we all need to heat and light our homes, not to mention power our ever increasing array of electronic devices at home and work. It’s going to be complicated – and difficult. Trespass laws have already been changed to allow it – people no longer own the land a mile underneath their homes – and it was even mentioned in the Queen’s speech last year.”
How would you describe the commercial property sector at the moment?
“From what we see, the commercial property sector is very buoyant – our clients tell us that they’re busy at the moment and that there’s quite a bit of investment. There has been an awful lot of money coming in from Russia and China – most of the redevelopment we are seeing in the UK is with Chinese money – and not just in London but other city centres too. Leeds is becoming a real commercial centre and lots of commercial law firms are opening offices in Manchester. Crossrail is creating real property hot spots as well – for example in Reading, where our head offices are.”
You deal with conveyancers on a daily basis – what do they say are the issues which concern them?
“There are more and more obligations being placed upon them by various bodies and by government so their task is becoming ever more onerous. Even in the commercial world, gone are the days when a lawyer could say: ‘I charge £1,000 an hour.’ Now people have to bid for work and do it for a fixed fee.
“So they need to work with partners they can trust – and that’s where Landmark comes in. By providing reports offering information and solutions we make it quicker and easier for them to discharge their responsibilities – and stay in profit at the same time.”